Even if you’re the hardest of hardgainers, there are nine essential tips you can follow that will instantly improve your muscle-building results in the gym.
1. Increase the volume with more sets
Simply increasing the amount of sets you perform in your workout can lead to greater gains in strength and size. This works well on both a strength (intensification) phase and a volume (accumulation) phase. So adding extra sets to your workout – such as seven sets of five reps instead of five sets of five reps – gives you that extra stimulus your muscles need to grow and get stronger.
2. Get strong for reps
One-rep max strength is all well and good, but you need to get strong for reps. The legendary Tom Platz, renowned for his freakish leg development, went down in history for squatting 228kg (500lbs) for an eye-watering 23 reps. If you can currently curl 30kg for six reps, you will undoubtedly build bigger arms if you can bump up those numbers to six reps at 50kg.
But remember – don’t sacrifice form to pile on the extra weight at all costs. Quality always beats quantity when it comes to reps.
3. Slow down the eccentrics
The part of the lift most associated with the best increases in hypertrophy is the lowering (eccentric) phase. If you want to get bigger and build maximum muscle, you need to overload the eccentric phase of the lift. The most effective way to do this is slow down the tempo on the eccentric part of the lift to elicit the greatest hypertrophy. Four seconds or more when lowering the weight will do the trick – but beware, this kind of training will leave you sore.
4. Lift with perfect form
‘Don’t just count reps, make every rep count’ says the famous Instagram quote. But imprint this time-worn gym aphorism on your brain and follow it to the letter, because if you’re trying to build a specific muscle, it’s vital you keep tension on it.
If you’re lifting with perfect form and keeping tension on your targeted muscle on every single rep, you will stand a better chance of maximising your muscle gains.
If your form goes out of the window half way through a set, you will probably end up hitting a load of different muscles you never intended.
Let’s not forget that perfect form prevents injuries – something that will really hamper your progress in the gym if you’re unlucky.
5. Get a decent training partner
If you really want to progress, getting a training partner who is as motivated as you can be a massive help. For starters, you’re less likely to skip a session when there’s someone else depending on you. With a good training partner you can push yourself harder, squeeze out those vital extra couple of reps and train heavy knowing that your partner has got your back if you need the occasional assistance rep.
Warning: we are talking TRAINING partner here. Not someone you go to the gym with to have a chat and pass the time. You should talk of nothing other than the workout. Your training partner can also help with one or two forced reps near the end of your exercise to get the maximum benefit.
6. Get real time under tension
If you’ve never considered ‘time under tension’ before during your workout, then you really need to start now to optimise your muscle building training. The time under tension refers to the total amount of time the muscle is under tension. If you’re performing 10 reps with a tempo of 4010, then your total time under tension should be 50 seconds.
The biggest gains in muscle growth come when the time under tension is above 30 seconds. So bashing out 10 speed reps in 10 seconds isn’t going to help you pack on muscle.
A good tip is to set a timer for 60 seconds and perform slow and controlled reps until the alarm goes off – we guarantee you will feel a massive difference.
7. Kick off your workout with heavy compound lifts
Big compound lifts challenge the nervous system most, and are neurologically complex, so should be done near the front of the workout. This will allow you to lift the most weight and stimulate the most muscle from these movements. This means big and demanding lifts like squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, bench presses, etc.
8. Understand progressive overload
Progressive overload is the basis of all progress in the gym. The definition is progressive overload is continually increasing the stress or demands on the body in order to continually make gains in muscle size and strength. It is the gradual increase in volume, intensity or frequency in your training over time to constantly challenge the body and stimulate the muscles. Increasing weight is just one example of progressive overload. Doing more reps of the same weight is another example. Basically, you must keep forcing your body to adapt to new stimuli.
9. Use drop sets
To grow, you need to tear your muscles in the gym – they will then get repaired stronger and bigger during your recovery (with adequate protein and calories). You stimulate the greatest muscle growth as you reach muscular failure on a lift because that’s when the most damage to the muscle is done. Extending the time within that muscular failure by using a drop set creates even greater growth.
A drop set is reaching the point on a lift where you can no longer move the weight with good form, then reducing the weight and repeating until you once again can’t lift the weight. This can be repeated multiple times, though between once and three times works best for most drop sets. A drop set is just one of a number of intensity techniques you can use which includes things like tri-sets, giant sets, antagonist supersets, rest-pause sets, forced reps and cluster sets.